Eusebius Pamphili of Caesarea’s apologetic for the veracity of the Gospel accounts

What follows is a relatively long and extremely interesting passage from Eusebius Pamphili of Caesarea, in Book 3, chapter 5 of his Demonstratio Evangelica (Proof of the Gospel). This passage is one of the most interesting to me among the Nicene Fathers for a great many reasons. I will just note a few of them here. First, in the following passage Eusebius gives us an apologetic for the authorship of each Gospel (i.e., a reason to think that each Gospel was written by the figure to whom it is traditionally ascribed). His apologetic stands as a good one even today, for there is nothing in the finding of modern scholarship or the advances in the historical-critical method of textual criticism, which renders the arguments herein void, obselete or even refuted. Remember that Eusebius was writing in the early fourth century, so his defence of the authorship of each Gospel is all the more interesting precisely because of how early in Christian history it comes. Considering how early Eusebius is, all things considered, it is also very interesting that he quotes Josephus talking about Jesus, and the passage looks identical to the one we find in Josephus today. Generally scholars argue that Josephus was tampered with by Christian redactors (which seems plausible to me), but it is curious that Eusebius’ quotation of Josephus in the early 300’s implies either that Christians redacted Josephus during the period when Christianity was both illegal and hotly persecuted, or else that the redactor(s) also read through the Church Fathers extensively and redacted their writings as well. The latter is even more implausible than the former, and while I’m inclined to believe that Josephus’ text is redacted, it is a note worthy of reminder that there is still a stream of scholarship which has argued that this passage in its entirety really does spill out on paper from Josephus’ pen.

The most interesting feature of this passage, however, is the double-edged apologetic it gives for the Gospel accounts. On the one hand, Eusebius argues that it is implausible to think that the Apostles and earliest disciples all conspired together to not only lie about Jesus, but to maintain the very same lie (i.e., that he was crucified, died in a shameful way, etc.), and on the other hand he goes farther and argues that the embarrassing elements of the Gospel accounts are best explained by being true, and if that minimum is true then, likely, Jesus was the kind of teacher who taught his disciples the value of truth and honesty, and then it cannot be supposed that the Gospel authors, telling the truth about the most embarrassing facts surrounding Jesus of Nazareth (like that they all deserted him, and that one of them betrayed him), that they should with the same pen, with practically the same stroke, record that Jesus had done such miraculous things and taught such wonderful things as to gather to himself men from all around.

I recall reading this passage when I was first delving into and discovering the Church Fathers (back when I had almost become a Muslim, and the challenge of Islam made me look seriously into the origins of Christianity), and this passage was, for me, among the most entertaining, memorable and ‘faith-inculcating’ passages I had read in the vast Patristic literature. Looking back on it today, I continue to think that Eusebius’ arguments here are very good, and if they require anything it is not adjustment but addition. I also constantly forget where the passage is exactly, so having found it again today (on my birthday as it happens [Edit: this was posted at 12:13, so technically on the day after my birthday]) I decided to post it here for ease of access and reference.




He [Jesus] commanded them besides all this to hold so fast to truth, that so far from swearing falsely they should not need to swear at all, and to contrive to exhibit a life more faithful than any oath, going so far only as Yea and Nay, and using the words with truth.

I would ask, then, where would be the sense in suspecting that hearers of such teaching, who were themselves masters in such instruction, invented their account of their Master’s work? How is it possible to think that they were all in agreement to lie, being twelve in number especially chosen, and seventy besides, whom He is said to have sent two and two before His face into every place and country into which He Himself would come? But no argument can prove that so large a body of men were untrustworthy, who embraced a holy and godly life, regarded their own affairs as of no account, and instead of their dearest ones —-I mean their wives, children, and all their family—-chose a life of poverty, and carried to all men as from one mouth a consistent account of their Master. Such would be the right and obvious and true argument; let us examine that which opposes it. Imagine the teacher and his disciples. Then admit the fanciful hypothesis that he teaches not the aforesaid things, but doctrines opposed to them, that is to say, to transgress, to be unholy, to be unjust, to be covetous and fraudulent, and anything else that is evil; that he recommends them to endeavour so to do without being found out, and to hide their disposition quite cleverly with a screen of holy teaching and a novel profession of godliness. Let the pupils pursue these, and more vicious ideals still, with the eagerness and inventiveness of evil: let them exalt their teacher with lying words, and spare no falsity: let them record in fictitious narrative his miracles and works of wonder, so that they may gain admiration and felicitation for being the pupils of such a master. Come, tell me, if such an enterprise engineered by such men would hold together? You know the saying, “The rogue is neither dear to rogue nor saint.”1 Whence came, among a crew of so many, a harmony of rogues? Whence their general and consistent evidence about everything, and their agreement even unto death? Who, in the first place, would give heed to a wizard giving such teaching and commands? Perhaps you will say that the rest were wizards no less than their guide. Yes—-but surely they had all seen the end of their teacher, and the death to which He came. Why then after seeing His miserable end did they stand their ground? Why did they construct a theology about Him when He was dead? Did they desire to share His fate? No one surely on any reasonable ground would choose such a punishment with his eyes open.

And if it be supposed that they honoured Him, while He was still their comrade and companion, and as some might say their deceitful cozener, yet why was it that after His death they honoured Him far more than before? For while He was still with men they are said to have once deserted Him and denied Him, when the plot was engineered against Him, yet after He had departed from men, they chose willingly to die, rather than to depart from their good witness about Him. Surely if they recognized nothing that was good in their Master, in His life, or His teaching, or His actions—-no praiseworthy deed, nothing in which He had benefited them, but only wickedness and the leading astray of men, they could not possibly have witnessed eagerly by their deaths to His glory and holiness, when it was open to them all to live on untroubled, and to pass a life of safety by their own hearths with their dear ones. How could deceitful and shifty men have thought it desirable to die for some one else, especially, if one may say so, for a man who they knew had been of no service to them, but their teacher in all evil? For while a reasonable and honourable man for the sake of some good object may with good reason sometimes undergo a glorious death, yet surely men of vicious nature, slaves to passion and pleasure, pursuing only the life of the moment and the satisfactions which belong to it, are not the people to undergo punishment even for friends and relations, far less for those who have been condemned for crime. How then could His disciples, if He was really a deceiver and a wizard, recognized by them as such, with their own minds enthralled by still worse viciousness, undergo at the hands of their fellow-countrymen every insult and every form of punishment on account of the witness they delivered about Him?—-this is all quite foreign to the nature of scoundrels.

And once more consider this. Granted that they were deceitful cozeners, you must add that they were uneducated, and quite common men, and Barbarians to boot, with no knowledge of any tongue but Syrian—-how, then, did they go into all the world? Where was the intellect to sketch out  so daring a scheme? What was the power that enabled them to succeed in their adventure? For I will admit that if they confined their energies  to their own country, men of no education might deceive and be deceived, and not allow a matter to rest. But to preach to all the Name of Jesus, to teach about His marvellous deeds in country and town, that some of them should take possession of the Roman Empire, and the Queen of Cities itself, and others the Persian, others the Armenian, that others should go to the Parthian race, and yet others to the Scythian, that some already should have reached the very ends of the world, should have reached the land of the Indians, and some have crossed the Ocean and reached the Isles of Britain, all this I for my part will not admit to be the work of mere men, far less of poor and ignorant men, certainly not of deceivers and wizards.

I ask you how these pupils of a base and shifty master, who had seen His end, discussed with one another how they should invent a story about Him which would hang together? For they all with one voice bore witness that He cleansed lepers, drove out demons, raised the dead to life, caused the blind to see, and worked many other cures on the sick—-and to crown all they agreed in saying that He had been seen alive after His death first by them. If these events had not taken place in their time, and if the tale had not yet been told, how could they have witnessed to them unanimously, and guaranteed their evidence by their death, unless at some time or other they had met together, made a conspiracy with the same intent, and come to an agreement with one another with regard to their lies and inventions about what had never taken place? What speech shall we suppose was made at their covenant? Perhaps it was something like this:

“Dear friends, you and I are of all men the best-informed with regard to the character of him, the deceiver and master of deceit of yesterday, whom we have all seen undergo the extreme penalty, inasmuch as we were initiated into his mysteries. He appeared a holy man to the people, and yet his aims were selfish beyond those of the people, and he has done nothing great, or worth a resurrection, if one leaves out of account the craft and guile of his disposition, and the crooked teaching he gave us and its vain deceit. In return for which, come, let us join hands, and all together make a compact to carry to all men a tale of deceit in which we all agree, and let us say that we have seen him bestow sight on the blind, which none of us ever heard he did, and giving hearing to the deaf, which none of us ever heard tell of: (let us say) he cured lepers, and raised the dead. To put it in a word, we must insist that he really did and said what we never saw him do, or heard him say. But since his last end was a notorious and well-known death, as we cannot disguise the fact, yet we can slip out even of this difficulty by determination, if quite shamelessly we bear witness that he joined us after his resurrection from the dead, and shared our usual home and food. Let us all be impudent and determined, and let us see that our freak lasts even to death. There is nothing ridiculous in dying for nothing at all. And why should we dislike for no good reason undergoing scourging and bodily torture, and if need be to experience imprisonment, dishonour, and insult for what is untrue? Let us now make this our business. We will tell the same falsehoods, and invent stories that will benefit nobody, neither ourselves, nor those we deceive, nor him who is deified by our lies. And we will extend our lies not only to men of our own race, but go forth to all men, and fill the whole world with our fabrications about him. And then let us lay down laws for all the nations in direct opposition to the opinions they have held for ages about their ancestral gods. Let us bid the Romans first of all not to worship the gods their forefathers recognized. Let us pass over into Greece, and oppose the teaching of their wise men. Let us not neglect the Egyptians, but declare war on their gods, not going back to Moses’ deeds against them of old time for our weapons, but arraying against them our Master’s death, to scare them; so we will destroy the faith in the gods which from immemorial time has gone forth to all men, not by words and argument, but by the power of our Master Crucified.

Let us go to other foreign lands, and overturn all their institutions. None of us must fail in zeal; for it is no petty contest that we dare, and no common prizes lie before us—-but most likely the punishments inflicted according to the laws of each land: bonds, of course, torture, imprisonment, fire and sword, and wild beasts. We must greet them all with enthusiasm, and meet evil bravely, having our Master as our model. For what could be finer than to make both gods and men our enemies for no reason at all, and to have no enjoyment of any kind, to have no profit of our dear ones, to make no money, to have no hope of anything good at all, but just to be deceived and to deceive without aim or object? This is our prize, to go straight in the teeth of all the nations, to war on the gods that have been acknowledged by them all for ages, to say that our Master, who (was crucified) before our very eyes was God, and to represent Him as God’s Son, for Whom we are ready to die, though we know we have learned from Him nothing either true or useful. Yes, that is the reason we must honour Him the more—-His utter uselessness to us—-we must strain every nerve to glorify His name, undergo all insults and punishments, and welcome every form of death for the sake of a lie. Perhaps truth is the same thing as evil, and falsehood must then be the opposite of evil. So let us say that He raised the dead, cleansed lepers, drove out daemons, and did many other marvellous works, knowing all the time that He did nothing of the kind, while we invent everything for ourselves, and deceive those we can. And suppose we convince nobody, at any rate we shall have the satisfaction of drawing down upon ourselves, in return for our inventions, the retribution for our deceit.”

Now is all this plausible? Does such an account have the ring of truth? Can any one persuade himself that poor and unlettered men could make up such stories, and form a conspiracy to invade the Roman Empire? Or that human nature, whose characteristic clement is self-preservation, would ever be able for the sake of nothing at all to undergo a voluntary death? (or) that our Saviour’s disciples reached such a pitch of madness, that, though they had never seen Him work miracles, they with one consent invented many, and having heaped together a mass of lying words about Him were ready to suffer death to uphold them? What is that you suggest? That they never looked forward to or expected to suffer anything unpleasant because of their witness to Jesus, and so they had no fear in going forth to preach about Him? What, you think it unlikely, that men who announced to Romans, Greeks, and Barbarians the total rout of their gods, would expect to undergo extreme sufferings on behalf of their Master? At least the record about them is clear in shewing, that after the Master’s death they were taken by plotters, who first imprisoned them, and afterwards released them, bidding them speak to none about the Name of Jesus. And discovering that after this they had publicly discussed the questions about Him before the multitude, they took them in charge and scourged them as a punishment for their teaching. It was then Peter answered them, and said: “It is right to obey God rather than men.” [[Acts v. 29.]] And after this Stephen was stoned to death for boldly addressing the Jewish populace, and an extraordinary persecution arose against those who preached in Jesus’ Name.


And who would not admire them, cut off by their divine philosophy even from lawful nuptials, not dragged in the train of sensual pleasure, not enslaved by the desire of children and descendants, since they did not yearn for mortal but immortal progeny? And who would not be astonished at their indifference to money, certified by their not turning from but welcoming a Master, Who forbade the possession of gold and silver, Whose law did not even allow the acquisition of a second coat? Why, any one only hearing such a law might reject it as too heavy, but these men are shewn to have carried out the words in fact. For once, when a lame man was begging from Peter’s companions (it was a man in extreme need who begged for food), Peter, not having anything to give him, confessed that he had no belongings in silver or gold, and said: (119) “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, give I unto thee: In the Name of Jesus Christ, arise and walk.” [[Acts iii. 6.]]

When  the Master gave them gloomy prophecies, if they gave heed to the things He said to them: “Ye shall have tribulation,” [[John xvi. 33.]] and again: “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice” [[John xvi. 20]]—-the strength and depth of their nature is surely plain, since they did not fear the discipline of the body, nor run after pleasures. And the Master also, as One Who would not soothe them by deceit Himself, was like them in renouncing His property, and in His prophecy of the future, so open and so true, fixed in their minds the choice of His way of life. These were (b) the prophecies of what would happen to them for His Name’s sake—-in which He bore witness, saying that they should be brought before rulers, and come even unto kings, and undergo all sorts of punishments, not for any fault, nor on any reasonable charge, but solely for this—-His Name’s sake. And we who see it now fulfilled ought to be struck by the prediction; for the confession of the Name of Jesus ever inflames the minds of rulers. And (c) though he who confesses Christ has done no evil, yet they punish him with every contumely “for His Name’s sake,” as the worst of evil-doers, while if a man swears away the Name, and denies that he is one of Christ’s disciples, he is let off scot-free, though he be convicted of many crimes. But why need I attempt to describe further the character of our Saviour’s disciples? Let what I have said suffice to prove my contention. I will add a few words (d) more, and then pass to another class of slanderers.

The Apostle Matthew, if you consider his former life, did not leave a holy occupation, but came from those occupied in tax-gathering and over-reaching one another. [[Luke v. 27: Mark]] None of the evangelists has made this clear, neither his fellow-apostle John, nor Luke, nor Mark, but [[Matthew ii. 14.]] himself, who brands his own life, and becomes his own accuser. Listen how he dwells emphatically on his own name in the Gospel written by him, when he speaks in this way:

(120) “9. And as Jesus passed by from thence, he saw a man, called Matthew, sitting at the place of toll, and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him. 10. And it came to pass, as he sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples.” [[Matt.ix.9.]]

And again further on, when he gives a list of the disciples, he adds the name “Publican” to his own. For he says:

(b) “Of the twelve apostles the names are these: First, Simon, called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican.” [[Matt. x.2-3.]]

Thus Matthew, in excess of modesty, reveals the nature of his own old life, and calls himself a publican, he does not conceal his former mode of life, and in addition to this he places himself second after his yoke-fellow. For he is paired with Thomas, Peter with Andrew, James with John, and Philip with Bartholomew, and he puts Thomas before himself, preferring his fellow-apostle to himself, while the (c) other evangelists have done the reverse. If you listen to Luke, you will not hear him calling Matthew a publican, nor subordinating him to Thomas, for he knows him to be the greater, and puts him first and Thomas second. Mark has done the same. Luke’s words are as follows:

“And when it was day, he called his disciples unto him, and chose twelve whom he also named apostles, Simon whom he also called Peter, and Andrew his brother, James and John, and Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas.” [[Luke vi.13]]

So Luke honoured Matthew, according to what they delivered, who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word. And you would find John like Matthew. For in his epistles he never mentions his own |139 name, or call himself the Elder, or Apostle, or Evangelist; and in the Gospel, though he declares himself as the one whom Jesus loved, he does not reveal himself by name. Neither did Peter permit himself to write a Gospel through his excessive reverence. Mark, being his friend and companion, is said to have recorded the accounts of Peter about the acts of Jesus, and when he comes to that part of the story where Jesus asked whom men said that He was, and what opinion His disciples had of Him, and Peter had replied that they regarded Him as (the) Christ, he writes that Jesus answered nothing, and said naught to him, except that He charged them to say nothing to any one about Him.

For Mark was not present when Jesus spoke those words; and Peter did not think it right to bring forward on his own testimony what was said to him and concerning him by Jesus. But Matthew tells us what was actually said to him, in these words:

“15. But whom say ye that I am? 16. And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood have not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 18. And I also say unto thee. That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19. And I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and whatsoever things thou shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever things thou shall loose on earth shall be [[Matt. xvi.15]] loosed in heaven.”

Though all this was said to Peter by Jesus, Mark does not record it, because, most likely, Peter did not include it in his teaching—-see what he says in answer to Jesus’ question: “Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ. And [[Mark viii.29.]] he straitly charged them that they should tell no man.” About this event Peter for good reasons thought it best to keep silence. And so Mark also omitted it, though he made known to all men Peter’s denial, and how he wept about it bitterly. You will find Mark gives this account of him:

“66. And as Peter was in the court, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest;. and when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him and said, And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth. 68. But he denied saying (I know not) neither understand what thou sayest; and he went into the outside porch, and the cock crew.. And the maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is one of them.. And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean. But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak.. And the second time the cock crew.” [[Mark xiv.66.]]

Mark writes thus, and Peter through him bears witness about himself. For the whole of Mark’s Gospel is said to be the record of Peter’s teaching. Surely, then, men who refused (to record) what seemed to them to spread their good fame, and handed down in writing slanders against themselves to unforgetting ages, and accusations of sins, which no one in after years would ever have known of unless he had heard it from their own voice, by thus placarding themselves, may justly be considered to have (b) been void of all egoism and false speaking, and to have given plain and clear proof of their truth-loving disposition. And as for such people who think they invented and lied, and try to slander them as deceivers, ought they not to become a laughing-stock, being convicted as friends of envy and malice, and foes of truth itself, who take men that have exhibited in their own words good proof of their integrity, and their really straightforward and sincere (c) character, and suggest that they are rascals and clever sophists, who invent what never took place, and ascribe gratuitously to their own Master what He never did?

I think then it has been well said: “One must put complete confidence in the disciples of Jesus, or none at all.” And if we are to distrust these men, we must distrust all writers, who at any time have compiled, either in Greece or other lands, lives and histories and records of men of their own times, celebrated for noble achievements, or else we should be considering it reasonable to believe others, (d) and to disbelieve them only. And this would be clearly invidious. What! Did these liars about their Master, who handed down in writing the deeds He never did, also falsify the account of His Passion? I mean His betrayal by one of His disciples, the accusation of the false witnesses, the insults and the blows on His face, the scourging of His back, and the crown of acanthus set on His head in contumely, the soldier’s purple coat thrown round Him like a cloak, and finally His bearing the very trophy of the Cross, His being nailed to it, His hands and feet pierced, His being given vinegar to drink, struck on the cheek with a reed, and reviled by those who looked on. Were these things and everything like them in the Gospels, also invented by the disciples, or must we disbelieve in the glorious and more dignified parts, and yet believe in these as in truth itself? And how can the opposite opinion be supported? For to say that the same men both speak the truth, and at the same time lie, is nothing else but predicating contraries about the same people at the same time.

What, then, is the disproof? That if it was their aim to deceive, and to adorn their Master with false words, they would never have written the above accounts, neither would they have revealed to posterity that He was pained and (b) troubled and disturbed in spirit, that they forsook Him and fled, or that Peter, the apostle and disciple who was chief of them all, denied Him thrice though untortured and unthreatened by rulers. For surely if their aim was solely to present the more dignified side of their Master they would have had to deny the truth of such things, even when stated by others. And if their good faith is evident in (c) their gloomier passages about Him, it is far more so in the more glorious. For they who had once adopted the policy of lying would have the more shunned the painful side, and either passed it over in silence, or denied it, for no man in an after age would be able to prove that they had omitted them.

Why, then, did they not lie, and say that Judas who betrayed Him with a kiss, when he dared to give the sign of treachery, was at once turned into a stone? and that the man who dared to strike Him had his right hand at once dried up; and that the high priest Caiaphas, as he conspired with the false witnesses against Him, lost the (d) sight of his eyes? And why did they not all tell the lie that nothing disastrous happened to Him at all, but that He vanished laughing at them from the court, and that they who plotted against Him, the victims of an hallucination divinely sent, thought they were proceeding against Him still though He was no longer present? But what? Would it not have been more impressive, instead of making up these inventions of His miraculous deeds, to have written that He experienced nothing of the lot of human beings or mortals, but that after having settled all things with power (124) divine He returned to heaven with diviner glory? For, of course, those who believed their other accounts would have believed this.

And surely they who have set no false stamp on anything that is true in the incidents of shame and gloom, ought to be regarded as above suspicion in other accounts wherein they have attributed miracles to Him. Their evidence then may be considered sufficient about our (b) Saviour. And here it will not be inappropriate for me to make use of the evidence of the Hebrew Josephus as well, who in the eighteenth chapter of The Archaeology of the Jews, in his record of the times of Pilate, mentions our Saviour in these words:

“And Jesus arises at that time, a wise man, if it is befitting to call him a man. For he was a doer of no common works, a teacher of men who reverence truth. And he gathered many of the Jewish and many of the Greek race. This was Christus; and when Pilate (c) condemned him to the Cross on the information of our rulers, his first followers did not cease to revere him. For he appeared to them the third day alive again, the divine prophets having foretold this, and very many other things about him. And from that time to this the tribe of the Christians has not failed.”

If, then, even the historian’s evidence shews that He attracted to Himself not only the twelve Apostles, nor the seventy disciples, but had in addition many Jews and Greeks, He must evidently have had some extraordinary power beyond that of other men. For how otherwise could (d) He have attracted many Jews and Greeks, except by wonderful miracles and unheard-of teaching? And the evidence of the Acts of the Apostles goes to shew that there were many myriads of Jews who believed Him to be the Christ of God foretold by the prophets. And history also assures us that there was a very important Christian Church in Jerusalem, composed of Jews, which existed until the siege of the city under Hadrian. The bishops, too, who stand first in the line of succession there are said to have been Jews, whose names are still remembered by the inhabitants. So that thus the whole slander against His disciples is destroyed, when by their evidence, and apart also from their evidence, it has to be confessed that many myriads of Jews and Greeks were brought under His yoke by Jesus the Christ of God through the miracles that He performed.

Such being my answer to the first division of the unbelievers, now let us address ourselves to the second body. This consists of those, who while they admit that Jesus worked miracles, say that it was by a species of sorcery that deceived those who looked on, like a magician or enchanter. He impressed them with wonder…

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Is Money the Root of All Evil?

Biblically literate readers may be thinking to themselves “no, money is not the root of all evil, but the love of money is the root of all evil, just as the Bible says.” I want to challenge the notion that the Bible says any such thing. Let’s look at the relevant passage from St. Paul:

“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
~King James Version, 1 Timothy 6:10

That sounds pretty definitive, but there are a number of reasons to call this into question. First of all, no Christian theology teaches that the love of money is the root of original sin, or is the root of the angelic fall, or even is the root of all sin in the world (for even before the invention of money, evil existed, and even if we abolished money and abolished the love of money, sin would persist). Part of the problem here is the KJV translation, which has been the cause of the expression among English-speaking Christians. Here is a better translation from the New Revised Standard Version:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
~NRSV 1 Timothy 6:10

In fact, in context, this verse is referring to the aforementioned evils into which people fall in their pursuit of great wealth (namely: “envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain“). Thus, Adam Clarke writes:

Perhaps it would be better to translate παντων των κακων, of all these evils; i.e. the evils enumerated above; for it cannot be true that the love of money is the root of all evil, it certainly was not the root whence the transgression of Adam sprang, but it is the root whence all the evils mentioned in the preceding verse spring. This text has been often very incautiously quoted; for how often do we hear, “The Scripture says, Money is the root of all evil!” No, the Scripture says no such thing. Money is the root of no evil, nor is it an evil of any kind; but the love of it is the root of all the evils mentioned here.

As the Scripture says in the same place:

“for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it” 1 Timothy 6:7

Posted in Exegesis, Miscellaneous, Theology | Tagged | 5 Comments

John Locke’s argument for God’s existence

“We are capable of knowing certainly that there is a God. Though God has given us no innate ideas of himself” (Book IV, X.1)

I’ve been reading into Locke’s Natural Law, as I’m scheduled to write an essay on the role an appeal to God and/or revelation plays in Locke’s contractarian doctrine of the commonwealth. It is clear that he is a Natural Law theorist, and his appeal to God is significant. Also significant, however, is the security of this foundation for practical reason. In what follows I will explore Locke’s argument for God’s existence as it appears in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, in books I and IV. Even though the essay I will be writing will be an essay on his Second Treatise concerning Civil Government I think it is worth exploring the background of his Natural Law theory presented there by exploring how, or whether, Locke thinks we can come to know that God exists, which is a correlate of knowing about the Natural Law.

Locke is clearly and famously opposed to the idea of innate ideas, and so denies that the notion of God is innate, although he admits readily that “if there were any ideas to be found imprinted on the minds of men, we have reason to expect it should be the notion of his Maker, as a mark God set on his own workmanship, to mind man of his dependence and duty; and that herein should appear the first instances of human knowledge” (Essay, Book I.13). He attempts to demonstrate this by pointing out that many people are “Anthropomorphites” by which he means that people “fancy him [God] in the shape of a man sitting in heaven.” Locke argues; “talk but with country people, almost of any age, or young people almost of any condition, and you shall find that, though the name of God be frequently in their mouths, yet the notions they apply this name to are so odd, low, and pitiful, that nobody can imagine they were taught by a rational man.” Locke thinks that this demonstrates satisfactorily that God does not grant man any innate idea of himself, but then quickly argues that this does nothing to impugn God or to imply that he has not acted in maximal wisdom.

“I think it a very good argument to say,—the infinitely wise God hath made it so; and therefore it is best. But it seems to me a little too much confidence of our own wisdom to say,—“I think it best; and therefore God hath made it so.””

Locke thus insists: “Nor do I see how it derogates more from the goodness of God, that he has given us minds unfurnished with these ideas of himself, than that he hath sent us into the world with bodies unclothed“.  He assures us, however, that “he hath furnished man with those faculties which will serve for the sufficient discovery of all things requisite to the end of such a being; and I doubt not but to show, that a man, by the right use of his natural abilities, may, without any innate principles, attain a knowledge of a God, and other things that concern him” (Book I, III.12). In fact, surprisingly, Locke thinks that the existence of God is (or at least is nearly) an analytic truth, for he says:

“It is as certain that there is a God,as that the opposite angles made by the intersection of two straight lines are equal. There was never any rational creature that set himself sincerely to examine the truth of these propositions that could fail to assent to them; though yet it be past doubt that there are many men, who, having not applied their thoughts that way, are ignorant both of the one and the other.” (Book I, III.17) 

However, “though this be the most obvious truth that reason discovers, and though its evidence be (if I mistake not) equal to mathematical certainty: yet it requires thought and attention” (Book IV, X.1). How does Locke propose to show this?

Here I will try to reproduce, and comment briefly upon, Locke’s argument for the existence of God, which he seems to think so evident as to not require elaboration. The first step, curiously, looks characteristically cartesian:

To show, therefore, that we are capable of knowing, i.e. being certain that there is a God, and how we may come by this certainty, I think we need go no further than ourselves, and that undoubted knowledge we have of our own existence. 2. For man knows that he himself exists. I think it is beyond question, that man has a clear idea of his own being; he knows certainly he exists, and that he is something.

He mocks the skeptic, anticipating pretentious objections; “If any one pretends to be so sceptical as to deny his own existence, (for really to doubt of it is manifestly impossible,) let him for me enjoy his beloved happiness of being nothing, until hunger or some other pain convince him of the contrary.” Moving on, he then appeals to the ex nihilo nihil fit: “He knows also that nothing cannot produce a being; therefore something must have existed from eternity. In the next place, man knows, by an intuitive certainty, that bare nothing can no more produce any real being, than it can be equal to two right angles.” I will note here that I think this argument is a little bit too slick and quick, since Locke doesn’t address the possibility of an infinite chain of contingent beings, but if we are interpret him charitably he has the same intuitions as his contemporary (and best critic) Leibniz. Locke’s genius perhaps doesn’t approach that of Leibniz, but perhaps we can read Locke as punting towards Leibniz and others like him on such a matter; one way or another, Locke is convinced that, even without stopping to address possible objections, no objections can be raised which are not evidently answered already (or answerable). Locke continues: “If, therefore, we know there is some real being, and that nonentity cannot produce any real being, it is an evident demonstration, that from eternity there has been something; since what was not from eternity had a beginning; and what had a beginning must be produced by something else.” Clearly this argument is a species of cosmological argument. Notice that here Locke appeals to the idea that anything which has a beginning must be produced by something else. It isn’t clear to me whether Locke really means to advocate a Kalam cosmological argument, or whether he is using ‘begin’ in a more sophisticated analogous sense, but either way he is clearly appealing to one, or multiple and muddled, cosmological argument(s).

Locke wants to move beyond this however, and makes two interesting moves as he continues from here. In the first move, he tries to prove that God must be a knowing thing, and in the second move he tries to argue that one can easily get to all of the superlative attributes (ambitious even for the most optimistic philosopher advocating a Natural Theology). The first move goes like this: “what had its being and beginning from another, must also have all that which is in and belongs to its being from another too.” This is essentially an appeal to the principle of Causal Adequacy, to which Descartes also memorably appeals in the meditations (in particular, in the third meditation, for his ‘trademark’ argument). The principle of causal adequacy states that no effect can be greater than its cause, or, more pedantically, that no effect can be greater in kind than its effect. The relevance of saying that all of that which is in a contingent being must come from another is revealed in the way Locke continues: “there was a time, then, when there was no knowing being, and when knowledge began to be; or else there has been also a knowing being from eternity. If it be said, there was a time when no being had any knowledge, when that eternal being was void of all understanding; I reply, that then it was impossible there should ever have been any knowledge.” The move here is extremely interesting and relevant: Locke is arguing in essence that if God does not exist, then knowledge is impossible, but knowledge is possible, and therefore God evidently exists. The Atheist, Locke thinks, will be digging herself into a hole if she denies that God exists, since she must, according to Locke, be committed then to not knowing anything (which Locke thinks will follow by entailment given the principle of causal adequacy). Locke thus ridicules the Atheist: “If, nevertheless, anyone should be found so senselessly arrogant, as to suppose man alone knowing and wise, but yet the product of mere ignorance and chance; and that all the rest of the universe acted only by that blind haphazard; I shall leave with him that very rational and emphatical rebuke of Tully (I. ii. De Leg.), to be considered at his leisure: “What can be more sillily arrogant and misbecoming, than for a man to think that he has a mind and understanding in him, but yet in all the universe beside there is no such thing? Or that those things, which with the utmost stretch of his reason he can scarce comprehend, should be moved and managed without any reason at all?”” Thus he rested his case for this step.

“We have then got one step further; and we are certain now that there is not only some being, but some knowing, intelligent being in the world.”

Moreover, “that eternal Being must be most powerful” – and this is because no effect can exceed it’s cause, and thus there is nothing which exists whose power exceeds it’s first cause, and thus God is ‘the most powerful’. Notice that this doesn’t quite get one to omnipotence, or doesn’t seem to, but merely gets one to the notion that God is the most powerful extant thing.

Locke concludes: “thus, from the consideration of ourselves, and what we infallibly find in our own constitutions, our reason leads us to the knowledge of this certain and evident truth,—That there is an eternal, most powerful, and most knowing Being; which whether any one will please to call God, it matters not. The thing is evident; and from this idea duly considered, will easily be deduced all those other attributes, which we ought to ascribe to this eternal Being.” Locke doesn’t plug up the gaps in the argument, or give any obvious (to me) indication of how he intends this should be done, but one gets the basic thrust.

Posted in Miscellaneous, Natural Theology, Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion | Tagged | 2 Comments

A demarcation principle for Miracles

Randal Rauser has proposed that we may be able to use a design filter as an epistemic tool for identifying miracles. What he means by a design filter here is really just an adaptation of William Dembski’s notion of ‘specified complexity’. The inspiration for this seems to be in part because Rauser realizes that the term ‘miracle’ did not, to the pre-scientific mind of the Biblical authors and their audience(s), entail something as strong as a violation of, or an exception to, the laws of physics, or anything like that. A miracle was an act of God (whether mediate or immediate) signifying something with theological or revelatory import. Therefore, it’s not out of the question that God can be said to perform a miracle even where one can give a satisfactory physical account of the happenstance. For instance, when a pastor prays to God for money needed to keep a church or ministry going, and the money comes in just in time; perhaps one can tell a causal story about how the money happened to be on the way before the pastor ever prayed for it, but that may not take away from the pastor’s justified belief that God had answered her prayer.

I think this is an extremely interesting proposal. Randal Rauser is in effect offering us a tool for justifying the inference of a miracle from the principle by which we can presumably make a legitimate design inference. One merely needs to identify three elements: 1) contingency, 2) complexity, 3) specificity. For those not already familiar with Dembski’s work on specified complexity, I will direct readers to his book. Now, Rauser’s proposal has received some criticism, for instance by Jonathan M.S. Pearce. However, I think Pearce says nothing directly opposed in principle to Rauser’s recommendation. Indeed, as I’ve followed the relevant blogs, posts and the overly rhetorical comments I simply found Pearce and others attacking the suggestion that any anecdotal examples Rauser put forward were really improbable after all. However, that just is to say that they don’t pass Rauser’s own standard. Maybe nothing passes Rauser’s design filter – that wouldn’t be any sort of defeater for the filter itself (even if it may be a weak defeater for miracles).

Rauser provides the following thought experiment on his blog (to which I’ve already linked):

Let’s say that Dave lives in a pre-scientific culture in the year AD 500. Dave is a missionary to a barbarous people and is about to have a power encounter with their head witch doctor in which he aims to show the superiority of the Christian god over their tribal deity of blood and soil… [Witch doctor does some magic] Dave is undeterred. “Yahweh, the one true God, is superior!” Dave says. “Watch him darken the very source of all fire, our sun!” And at that moment an eclipse which would have been predicted by able Ptolemaic or Newtonian astronomers, had any been around to predict it, commences. The crowd gasps at the awesome display.

Would it be rational for the audience to conclude that they had witnessed a miracle at the hands of Dave’s deity? Of course it would.

And would it in fact be the case that they had witnessed a miracle at the hands of Dave’s deity?

That depends. Presumably if Dave’s deity exists then he set up the scientific laws in the first place, and he did so knowing that at precisely the right moment Dave would predict an eclipse which would in fact occur due to those scientific laws.

Or, if we’re libertarians, God set the world up so that Dave would have the libertarian-free choice to trust God’s direction imparted by the Holy Spirit when God invites Dave to say such a thing. God doesn’t determine, nor is it determined by anyone other than Dave, that Dave will proclaim thus to the indigenous audience.

In the example above, all Randal Rauser is attempting to establish is that a person can be epistemically justified in inferring that a miracle has occurred, even where the laws of physics have not been (apparently) ‘broken’ or ‘suspended’, and that there may in fact be some instances of miracles which would be correctly inferred.

There may be some significant advantages to using Rauser’s design-filter to identify miracles. For instance, one who is so Humean as to think that nobody can ever be justified in believing that the laws of nature have been suspended (i.e., that the universe is ALWAYS a closed system), may find herself having to confront the resurrection of Jesus as a miracle to which our best physics assigns the quality of physical possibility. Whether there are any scientific laws which hold with nomic necessity (whose application yields deductive closure) and which allow room for a resurrection (making it a physically possible event), or not, nothing of significant import follow from this; regardless of whether such laws can be cited in one’s explanatory account of the resurrection, the inference form Jesus’ resurrection to the hypothesis that in the person of Jesus of Nazareth God revealed himself definitively to the world (and ultimately vindicated his claims by raising Jesus from the dead), remains entirely legitimate. I am, of course, very tempted to say that there are no actual laws of physics (that is, no ‘correct’ laws of physics) stipulated with nomic necessity which make it possible that Jesus rose again naturally from the dead, but the point is that even if there were such laws one could legitimize calling the resurrection a miracle precisely because it passes this demarcation principle.

If one can use this demarcation criteria for miracles then one may also, in principle, be able to distinguish paranormal activities from miracles, (thus there is no fear of taking any miraculous paranormal activity as the explanandum of scientific investigation, or even not being sure whether to take such events as scientific explananda). I think that this principle has a lot of mileage; it is both a brilliant demarcation principle for miracles, and also one for which I cannot think of any available defeater.

So, not only is a miracle not an exception to any scientific law which is stipulated to hold with nomic necessity (as I have argued and explained previously), but even where some event can be explanatorily captured by such scientific laws it may nevertheless remain genuinely miraculous. The demarcation principle is independent of whether one can give a satisfactory scientific explanation of the physical events in question, so that the question of whether what occurs can be captured by the language of science is just superfluous to the question of whether what occurs is miraculous.

Posted in Apologetics, Epistemology, Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Theology | 10 Comments

Permissible Slavery?

It is generally affirmed among those with a modern western temperament, which I clearly share, that slavery is simply and strictly wrong. As Abraham Lincoln memorably said “if slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” However, are there any circumstances in which slavery is justified? Consider the following scenario: suppose that in war time where two armies confront each other, one side clearly wins a definitive victory against the other and is left with a choice of either killing all of the soldiers of the opposing defeated army, or else subjugating them, taking away their freedoms and, in essence, enslaving them. It isn’t so clear where our moral intuitions lie in such a case, but it is clear that we have a hard time being absolutists in the face of such a hypothetical scenario. Maybe ‘slavery’ is open for discussion in such rare circumstances; maybe the better thing for the victorious side to do is to enslave the soldiers of the other side, rather than kill them all.

Moreover, having considered prisoners of war, what of prisoners in general? By any definition of slavery I can think of, those criminals who are in jail in Canada or the United States are subjected to a form of slavery (they are forced into their situation of subjugation against their will, the power over them is absolute, and in the U.S. they don’t even have the right to vote). Thus Angela Davis writes:

The 13th Amendment, when it abolished slavery, did so except for convicts. Through the prison system, the vestiges of slavery have persisted.
~Slavery and Prison

Maybe there are ways of differentiating ‘slavery’ from imprisonment – what would they be? I suppose one might say that the institution of prison is one which does not allow anyone to have despotic power over the one subjugated. However, how much power can one have over another before it qualifies as despotic, and must one really have ‘that’ much power over another before it becomes slavery? Somebody may adopt a different strategy and say that slavery has the connotation that the person being enslaved is enslaved through no fault of their own. I’m not sure that’s right in fact, but regardless we can pretend that’s right for the moment. However, is it always the case that an enemy combatant is guilty of some crime? By what standard? Surely not by an international standard, since there is no such thing (or hasn’t been for most of the wars in the course of history). By what standard then? By the standard of the victorious nation? That can’t be right either, since the victors are not always the just (might does not make right). Not only does the term slavery insinuate nothing at all about culpability, but even if it did, if it were always and everywhere wrong, then nothing would allow us to justify taking enemy soldiers as prisoners of war. Note that they can’t be said to be culpable for ‘fighting’ us, since they may not be responsible for the situation in which they find themselves, as when a man (or woman) is drafted in wartime. Moreover, even in the case that in some war the unjust side should win, and the soldiers subjugated to them don’t in any way deserve to be subjugated, the unjust army would be justified in taking prisoners of war. It seems to follow that under the right conditions we can justify subjugation indifferentiable from slavery.

Some have suggested that the difference between being a slave and being a prisoner is merely a matter of psychology, so that some slaves in the ancient world were prisoners, and some prisoners today are slaves. This is superficial at best though, and a distinction without a moral difference at worst. Some have tried to use this distinction to distinguish slavery from employment (here), and Nozick famously argued that even taxation is a form of slavery! The consequences of this thought process seem wild, but such arguments raise serious questions about how we define slavery, and whether we really are able to distinguish it from other phenomena as something any instance of which is unconscionable.

Perhaps the difference lies in the ideal that a slave is reckoned as a piece of property; but against this consider that a state or nation will often fail to hand a criminal foreigner over to her nation on the grounds that she is ‘their prisoner’, as though they own her. It may be suggested that one can do whatever one wants with one’s property, and we might hereby locate a difference between a prisoner of the state, and a slave. Perhaps a prisoner could never have certain rights taken from them, such as the right not to be tortured for fun. However, if we define slavery as being in a state where, potentially, one can be tortured for the amusement of the master then it seems we make slavery always and everywhere wrong, but for the ‘wrong’ reasons (namely, because of torture rather than because of ‘slavery’ per se). Moreover, that seems like a gerrymandered definition of slavery, engineered to suit our sensibilities rather than take the problem at hand seriously. Would we really say that slave-owners who were subject to laws forbidding the torture of their ‘slaves’ weren’t really slave-owners, or that they didn’t really have ‘slaves’? I doubt it.

Perhaps the difference is that prisoners are merely detained, while slaves are ‘put to work’ so to speak. However, if a master does not command his slave to do anything for him for an indefinite or extended period of time, is he not still his slave and always at his disposal in that capacity? Moreover, often prisoners are put to work against their will for unequal wages (to say the least). Thus the distinction is blurred until no sense can be made of it. What avenue do we have left? I’m not sure I see one. Thus, the conclusion seems to be that the axiom that ‘slavery is wrong per se‘ isn’t above reproach.

John Locke argues that the only condition in which slavery might be justified is if one man tries to enslave another (unjustly) and we enslave him. He has, by trying to take the life, liberties or property of another, and thus infringing on their rights, forfeited his right of being regarded as a rational person, and instead has likened himself to a lion or a snake, or some other such animal. Thus, it is not unjustified for us to enslave him, (i.e., to imprison him, assert our total command over him and do with him as we see fit, including killing him via capital punishment). This seems to be the Lockean justification for slavery/prison. As I pointed out in a previous post, Locke has a definition of slavery precise enough even to exclude most of the instances of Old Testament ‘slavery’ (since he wants to call that drudgery), yet when it comes to convicts of the commonwealth, it seems that they can be justifiably taken as the slaves of the commonwealth. Locke seems to be giving simultaneously a justification for both ‘slavery’ and ‘prison’. 

Before I bring this thought to a close and put a bow on this discussion, so to speak, I feel compelled to say something as an aside about the way this might relate to Christian apologetics. I note that I wrap up in this way to register some concerns I have with this issue, and though they arouse a great deal of emotional antimony, I feel compelled to note the following in the spirit of intellectual honesty. On the one hand, neither I nor any reasonable person (or reasonable modern person) wants to condone, much less promote, slavery. On the other hand I do believe in the truth of the Christian worldview, and there may be a challenge here to my modernist sensibilities in some sense. Clearly the Bible doesn’t explicitly condone or promote slavery, but there are laws in the Torah which are intended to regulate slavery. Those laws, when compared with other ancient near eastern customs and practices surrounding slavery clearly aim in some sense towards the betterment of the social conditions under which slaves live their lives. There is clearly a sense in which the Christian rightly argues that, social conditions being what they were, the only practicable justice possible, even if it fell short of purely ‘ideal’ justice (which would be utopic), was one which i) greatly improved the social conditions of slaves, and ii) provided principles which set a trajectory towards, and provided the impetus for, the abolition of slavery as a social institution and political reality. We should not forget that where the liberation theologians go right is precisely at this point: that even today we have not managed to create a human society in which there has been no institutionalization of evil, but even so the Gospel gives us the resources for, and acts as the catalyst for, the kind of social reform and progress envisioned by the Christian ideal. I don’t want to go too far in step with the liberation theologian (at some point I think they step off the cliff of the kerygma of Christian faith), but I do want to acknowledge what truth I find in their theology. Now, bearing all these apologetic points in mind, it seems to me that given that the Torah regulates slavery, it obviously assumes that slavery is a politically ‘tolerable’ institution under certain non-ideal conditions. If slavery were truly morally intolerable, then it is not possible that God had any morally sufficient reason for tolerating the institution (which, if God inspired scripture, he did). As conditions change, so do the practicable imperatives of justice. What cannot practicably be changed given a set of conditions, however, cannot be an imperative of justice (since an ‘ought’ always implies a ‘can’). So, what I seem to be committed to saying, if I am a Christian, is that there may be non-ideal social conditions which make the institution of slavery a politically tolerable institution; one which, if it cannot be abolished, can at least be regulated to some beneficent effect. So then, as a Christian, I find that I cannot strictly and dogmatically say that slavery is morally unconscionable and politically intolerable in any and all non-ideal circumstances. However, as I tried to demonstrate by intellectual exploration in this post, I think even the secular humanist is not able to strictly and dogmatically say that slavery is morally unconscionable and politically intolerable in any and all non-ideal circumstances. It just seems that that claim cannot be cashed out, as it were, regardless of how emotionally attached to it both the secular humanist and the Christian happen to be. Two things follow from this, it seems. First, the secular humanist gains no ‘moral’ advantage over the Christian by pointing out that the Bible tolerates slavery, and second, no moral argument against the truth of Christianity can be purchased from the fact that the Bible regulates slavery, or prescribes regulative norms for slavery under non-ideal conditions. 

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Nomic Necessity and Ceteris Paribus

What philosophers of science and scientists want in scientific explanations is (generally) for there to be some law cited, some universally quantifiable regularity which holds with nomic necessity, an exception-less law. However, it seems to me that scientific laws are all best expressed as conditional ‘if-then’ statements which hold for closed systems (that is, which hold all things being equal or ‘ceteris paribus‘). There is a concern here, however, since if one cites a law of the form if P then Q, and simply adds the caveat ‘ceteris paribus‘ at the end, then the law will not be exception-less, it will not have nomic necessity (at least, this is the concern which somebody like Hempel would seem to have).

First, I’m not sure that the law (P⊃Q, ceteris paribus) is one which lacks nomic necessity. It really does hold under all circumstances, at least if the law is correct. If somebody cannot shake the sense that the ceteris paribus clause is problematic, then what about the following: (P&CP)⊃Q
Here we simply move the ceteris paribus clause from being a caveat after the fact, to one of the antecedent conditions stipulated in the law being cited. Wouldn’t this hold with nomic necessity? If not, then how about this: (P&~O)⊃Q
Take O to stand for ‘open system’ as opposed to a closed system, so that O indicates that there may be factors beyond the ‘idealized’ scenario, which is to say that the system under consideration is not ‘closed’. If the system were closed, then P⊃Q would hold with nomic necessity, but it does so only for closed systems. Here, in our (P&~O)⊃Q form of stipulating the law, the ceteris paribus clause is still being stipulated, but not as obviously. I think that may be the best we can do in science though.

Note that with this definition of a scientific law, a miracle would never be a violation of, or an exception to, any scientific law, since if God acts in the universe in some particular instance, then the ‘universe’ isn’t a closed system in that instance. Scientific laws, I think, must be stated as universal generalizations (regularities) which hold with nomic necessity for closed systems.

Posted in Philosophy, Philosophy of Science | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Contradictions, Consistency and Coherence

Everything follows from a contradiction, including, of course, a contradiction. However, consider the following scenario. Bill has 50,000 beliefs, only two of which are contradictory (i.e., he has no more than one belief which can’t be squared away with the rest of his belief set). Bart has 50,000 beliefs, and has up to 400 contradictory beliefs. Now, since everything follows from a contradiction, won’t it turn out that after Bart has contradicted himself once, all the rest of his beliefs follow from what he already believes? If this is the case, then aren’t Bart and Bill equally consistent? That can’t be right, but what’s wrong with it? We all, I suspect, intuitively want to say that Bill is clearly the one with the higher level of consistency (or whatever), but since contradictions are consistent with contradictions (given that they follow from each other), it seems not to be so.

Perhaps the solution is to introduce a distinction between consistency and coherence. Somebody either is or is not consistent (that is, their belief set either is or is not consistent), but there is no way to measure consistency on a scale. However, coherence can be measured. Suppose that Suzy has a consistent belief set, and that Sally does as well. Perhaps Sally’s belief set is more coherent than Suzy’s. For instance, perhaps Suzy believes a conjunction P&Q, but the probability of P on Q is 0.6, whereas Sally believes the conjunction N&Q, where the probability of N on Q is 0.9. Thus, because P(P|Q)<P(N|Q), the conjunction N&Q has greater coherence than P&Q. Perhaps, in this way, we can say that Sally’s belief set is more coherent than Suzy’s even if both of them are equally consistent, and similarly that Bill’s belief set is more coherent than Bart’s by reason of the same. The trouble here is that it implies that we can measure the relative coherence of inconsistent belief sets, and this seems a strange conclusion to draw. Maybe we just have to bite the bullet somewhere, either by saying that neither Bart nor Bill are in a worse situation than the other (both being equi-inconsistent), or by saying that two inconsistent belief sets are not necessarily equally (in)coherent.

Another problem is that, suppose we add another imaginary person, Alex, to the mix. Alex has one belief, which is not self-referentially incoherent (or, in case it isn’t possible to have only one belief, given holistic-heuristic considerations, then has as few beliefs as it is possible to have, none of which are inconsistent with any other). Wouldn’t Alex have a maximally coherent set of beliefs? The probability of P on P is 1. But doesn’t it stand to reason that Bill may have a preferable belief set, all things being equal, to Alex’s? Imagine that, save for at least one inconsistent belief, all of Bill’s beliefs are true, and none of Alex’s are true (or as few of Alex’s are true as is possible). Suppose Bill had 500,000 beliefs instead of 50,000; doesn’t it seem odd that his belief set would be less coherent than Alex’s?

[Edit: Here’s an objection somebody may give: what is the probability of a contradiction on a contradiction? If the probability is 1, then it seems that Bart will be more ‘coherent’ than Bill. If the probability is 0, how can we say that contradictions logically entail contradictions?]

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If Christianity is true then Global Warming is a lie… Really?

Recently at a Ride for Refuge bike-a-thon (where I and others rode our bikes for 25-100 km to raise money for those in need) I met an evangelical, nice guy, who joked about how stupid the idea of global warming was. I wasn’t able to laugh heartily along with him, and I politely challenged him to explain to me what the problem with the idea was. He had gathered eventually that I was Catholic, and not evangelical, but seeing as he presumed a certain measure of common ground between us, he presented the following (vague) argument. He suggested that if God is in control, then the world wouldn’t end except with his say-so, and it therefore wouldn’t end in the way these radical leftists/liberals are suggesting it will if we don’t seriously address this (imaginary) problem of global warming. The kind of dystopia predicted by the story of global warming just doesn’t match up with a Christian eschatology. I challenged him, in return, with the following points. First, I said that if that were true, it would be a good argument for not trying to avoid a catastrophic nuclear war (now that I think of it, I wonder if this is why American Republicans are uncomfortably comfortable with having and keeping mass stock of nuclear weapons, but that’s a speculative digression). Clearly, however, there is no way to argue from the truth of Christianity to the impossibility or even implausibility of a catastrophic (even if not apocalyptic) nuclear war, or, for that matter, a catastrophic loss of life worldwide due to global warming. In passing, I’m not sure that Christian eschatology is so clear and conspicuous on the details of the end of the world that if global warming did occur (perhaps in conjunction with other events) it couldn’t be the/a cause of the end of the world (on pain of Christianity’s being falsified), but even if global warming couldn’t be the cause of the end of the world on a Christian eschatology, all that gives you is the conditional ‘if global warming is happening, then it will not entirely wipe out all human life‘ but that’s quite trivial. The same could be said of a zombie apocalypse (or, I suppose, a non-apocalyptic zombie epidemic). Nothing follows from that about whether we ought to be concerned about the issue, or what we ought to do (or not do) about it.

“Suppose”  I asked him “that global warming occurs, and within about a hundred years from now the earth’s population drops to something like 100,000 people; what would follow from that?” I suggested that no argument can be made from this, for how would that argument even go? Something like this probably: there are 100,000 people alive on the earth at present, therefore Jesus of Nazareth did not rise from the dead. Clearly not an impressive argument. But perhaps instead the argument would go like this: the earth has become considerably less inhabitable, therefore God does not exist. That can’t be right. Perhaps this: the integrity of the infrastructure of the Christian Church has been greatly compromised, therefore Jesus never existed, or the doctrine of the Trinity is false, or God does not have all the superlative attributes. Aren’t all these arguments absurd? None of these scenarios purchase any argument against Christianity’s truth. Moreover, what of this suggestion that God is in control? What does one mean by God being in control? Perhaps it means that God is providentially overseeing the course of human history. However, does that imply that global warming will not occur, or even that it ‘probably’ will not occur? I can see no reason to think this. If global warming is occuring then all it will mean, interpreted through the lens of Christian theology, is that mankind’s sin has damaged the integrity of creation, but isn’t that part and parcel of a Christian worldview in any case? In fact, it’s practically a truism on the Christian worldview. In fact, it is a truism on the Christian worldview.

Perhaps the argument is supposed to be a conditional probability of the following kind: the probability of God’s being in control, on Global warming, is extremely low. That can’t be right, since if the catastrophe predicted by global warming did occur it wouldn’t insinuate anything about God’s providence. Indeed, if that conditional probability were true, then it is a wonder that the following wouldn’t be true: the probability of God’s being in control, given the existence of sin the effects of which compromise the integrity of creation, is very very low. Clearly, whatever else that is, it isn’t something which sits well with a Christian story about the world. In fact, since global warming would just be one example of sin the effects of which compromise the integrity of creation, it’s hard to see how one could affirm the first without affirming the second, but the Christian story will not allow one to affirm the second, or at least the Christian story insinuates that the second isn’t true.

As the discussion progressed we diverged away from global warming and into eschatology and exegesis, and eventually into evolution, and I won’t reproduce any of my thoughts or arguments on those topics here. Instead, I want to try to give one last argument for the anti-global-warming position and respond to it. This is something which was partly discussed in the course of our conversation as well, though it was glossed over and not elaborated into a full argument. Suppose that these wild leftist liberals proclaiming the disaster of global warming and giving it the status of a kind of secular apocalypse, are really 1) trying to insinuate that Christianity isn’t true, and 2) trying to manipulate Christians and others into political, economic and environmental moves with some kind of (no doubt pernicious) secularist agenda behind it all. Even if both of these were true, would it follow that we should argue that Christians shouldn’t believe in global warming, or that they shouldn’t take action, regardless of their belief, to redress the problem of global warming (real or imagined)? I don’t think so. First, as we just saw, if a secularist is trying to insinuate by global warming that Christianity isn’t true, then they are simply courting a bad argument, and that’s nothing for the Christian to get upset about. The proper response to that general attitude is to show by reason that the secularist has a bad argument on hand, and that redounds, in effect, to the reasonableness of the Christian witness. Second, suppose that those on the left are promoting global warming with some kind of agenda in mind, whether it’s implicit, sublimated or altogether subliminal, or not. Isn’t it the case that most people on the left do genuinely believe that global warming is a serious problem? I think they clearly do. Shouldn’t that be enough for the Church to act as a witness to Christ by acting so as to appease their sensibilities? I think so. Imagine by analogy that you were a missionary to some African tribe (I don’t know why ‘African’ in particular, but let’s just say it’s a tribe in Africa for convenience). This particular African tribe believes strongly that if they do not gather sticks together and place them in the center of the village, and then light them on fire, on a certain day of the month each month, then their tribe will be met with some calamity, either by illness or weather, or whatever. Now, you try to tell them that no such thing is the case, that there’s just no connection between gathering sticks and burning them in the center of the village, and the weather. However, since they earnestly believe it, they aren’t likely to listen to you witness the Gospel to them because, as they see it, your doctrine puts them and their families in dire danger. They see your message as a threat to their well being, and since their belief is deeply entrenched, they aren’t going to be able to take the Gospel you present to them seriously insofar as it is presented as mutually exclusive with their deeply entrenched belief about sticks and the weather. Since it’s such a secondary issue, of no real import for the Gospel, wouldn’t it be reasonable to put to one side your views about the weather, and help them gather sticks, placing them in the center of the village? Wouldn’t your helping them be a witness in action to how much you care about them, and about their families, and about the world in general? It doesn’t matter that there’s no connection between gathering and burning sticks, and the weather – the fact is they believe that there is a connection, and they are less likely to take your message seriously unless you demonstrate by your actions that you care about them enough to join them in helping to make the world a better place. Isn’t gathering sticks with them, offering them a helping hand, a rather acceptable price to pay to show them that you love them because of Christ? If you would gladly spend your days gathering sticks in order to share the gospel with an African tribe, why not spend a little energy addressing the concern of global warming in order to put yourself in the near occasion of Christian witness to the demographic of democrats? If your argument is that the economy can’t sustain indulging this delusion then at very least your argument (whatever its worth) is clearly well outside of the province of theology. My purpose, of course, is not to convince everyone that global warming is correct, but, more modestly, to demonstrate that there are absolutely no good theological arguments against global warming, so one cannot excuse being vaguely motivated by theological concerns in their opposition to the ‘global warming’ thesis.

Finally, I presented a fourth argument on which I ultimately rested my case against his suggestion that Christians shouldn’t believe in global warming given this argument from eschatology. I suggested that the argument that if Christianity is true, then global warming is a lie, was an intellectually worthless argument, and to the extent that it is intellectually irresponsible, it directly harms the Church’s witness to the world. In particular, there is this large demographic of people who would be open to considering Christianity, or at least taking it more seriously, if they saw the Church presenting arguments which were good, rational, reasonable and compelling, and yet who, because they see the Church giving bad arguments, are compelled to look with suspicion upon all the claims the Church makes about Salvation, God and what difference Jesus makes to the human situation. I suggested that even if Christianity is true, and global warming is a lie, and even if it’s somehow true (in some way I haven’t even considered) that Christianity’s truth entails that global warming isn’t true, to present the vague argument that Christianity entails that global warming is not occurring without any substantive argument behind the gesturing (which makes it mere posturing) is intellectually irresponsible, and veritably sinful. This, it is, regardless of the fact (as it seems to me) that the person who publishes such an argument is actually co-opting religious sentiment illegitimately to advance a political agenda (i.e., that it isn’t the ‘wicked’ liberals who are trying to manipulate us, but rather these wolves in sheep’s clothing who present these arguments). To give such a bad argument is unconscionably evil not only because it is manipulative, but because it damages the Church’s witness to the world, and compromises the Church’s integrity as a reasonable witness to eternal truths, for if we can’t believe the Church about earthly things, how shall we believe it about heavenly things?

Posted in Apologetics, Eschatology, Theology | Tagged | 2 Comments

Locke and Old Testament ‘Slavery’

Christians and Jews often point out that the ‘slavery’, if it is right to call it that, which is spoken of in the Bible, is nothing like the slavery which existed in the history of the Americas. There are clearly relevant differences, such as for instance that slavery was voluntary, temporary, a remedy for poverty, there were laws in the Torah against any physical abuse (on pain of certain legal consequences such as letting the slave free, or even being put to death oneself), and so on. What I was pleasantly surprised to find, though, is the following passage in Locke where he makes the very same point:

I admit that we find among the Jews, as well as other
nations, cases where men sold themselves; but clearly they
sold themselves only into drudgery, not slavery. It is evident
that the person who was sold wasn’t thereby put at the mercy
of an absolute, arbitrary, despotic power; for the master was
obliged at a certain time to let the other go free from his
service, and so he couldn’t at any time have the power to kill
him. Indeed the master of this kind of servant was so far
from having an arbitrary power over his •life that he couldn’t
arbitrarily even •maim him: the loss of an eye or a tooth set
him free (Exodus xxi).
~Two Treatises of Government, Second Treatise, Chapter 4

None of this is meant to conclude to the moral acceptability of drudgery (my observation of Locke’s observation is intended to be value-neutral). It’s just plain interesting that Locke makes this point.

Posted in Miscellaneous | 3 Comments

A Humean Escape Route

So here’s a thought.

We imagine the Leibnizian saying that if there were an infinitely regressive series of facts, all of which were contingent, one would still require an explanation over and beyond the set of such facts. The Humean, we can imagine, responds by noting that if every fact in an infinite series is explained by its immediate antecedent, then any fact you pick out is explained. If all the facts in the set are explained, then there seems to be nothing left-over, nothing left-out. The Leibnizian then responds that this explanation has the logical form of a viciously circular argument; she points out that since the set of every second fact (P2n) is what explains the set of all facts which immediately follow (P2n-1), and since that latter set (P2n-1) explains the former (P2n), the Humean is running an explanation in a circle. Suppose then that the Humean replies as follows:

For any fact (Pn) one picks out of the set of infinitely many facts, that fact is itself explained by the set of facts Px where x>n.

Obviously if any fact is explained by the infinitely long conjunction of antecedent facts, most of which are mediately antecedent instead of immediately antecedent, then one may be able to wiggle out of the objection that the reasoning is circular. The Pruss-ian parody cannot be run.

I’m not sure this is right, since the Humean generally wants us to believe that if a chicken appeared ex nihilo, and laid an egg, then the egg will clearly have a satisfactory explanation regardless of whether the chicken has one. Moreover, the Humean generally wants to say that it is logically possible that a chicken (or whatever) exist ex nihilo. However, the counter-apologist could always just adopt the Humean move and then drop the rest of the Humean philosophy, and thus claim that the way in which they intend to explain any given fact in an infinite series of facts is not by merely citing it’s immediate antecedent.

Posted in Infinities, Natural Theology, Philosophy, Theology | 1 Comment